I am definitely not the first to recognize this, but it seems that in modern American society, being alone is synonymous with emotional and psychological problems. Media representations of those who withdraw from society seem to characterize these loners as social deviants with misanthropic tendencies (i.e. refusing to engage with peers.)
While there are plenty of silent misanthropes who want nothing to do with other people, it should be noted that the relationship between social isolation and psychological harm is more nuanced than most people think. There is extensive evidence from medical journals that show the increased risk of cardiovascular complications and suicide on account of perceived loneliness. Yet, most people neglect to mention the limits to our current research. BBC provided a wonderful explanation of the issue in their article exploring common myths about loneliness. They mention that most of the studies conducted are performed on a cross-section (essentially a snapshot) of a population in any given point in time. In other words post hoc ergo propter hoc, or correlation does not always indicate causation. Other factors, including socioeconomic health, the household that someone grows up in, and the society in which one lives could potentially impact the health conditions of people in the future more than perceived loneliness.
Also, there is the operative word: perceived. I could be surrounded by friends and still consider myself lonely due to many superficial relationships as opposed to a few deep connections. Introverts with less social engagement can still have fulfilling relationships with others. Also, when people feel less obliged to spend time with others, they can use that time to study or work more. If one were to be objective, roughly 90% of the people that we talk to on a daily basis are not important to our well-being. How many people pay you, give you good grades, or could possibly be used to negotiate your way into a higher paying job? While some relationships are necessary to maintain normal cognitive functioning and not spiral into depression, there are plenty of people who are just worthless to the survival of someone.
While not studied often, there are cited benefits of social isolation. Jack Fong of the California Polytechnic University explains that:
"When people are experiencing crisis it’s not always just about you: It’s about how you are in society... " "When people take these moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little bit about how to out-maneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting."
When people are removed from the context of society, they can analyze their actions and behavior better, often having a therapeutic effect. In fact, there are documented incidents of this therapeutic effect helping people. The Atlantic recounts the story of Italian author and journalist Tiziano Terzani, who isolated himself for years only to feel less anxious as a person. He declared:
“At last I had time to have time.”
In no way am I suggesting that social isolation is always healthy. However, it seems to be unfairly stigmatized.